After a two-year delay because of computer snafus related tobilling, East Ohio Gas finally is preparing to join the state’s twoother major gas distribution companies in offering customer choiceacross its entire system. It also has agreed to stop sellingnatural gas entirely by 2004.

The Ohio Consumers’ Counsel (OCC) said it has reached anagreement with Dominion Resources subsidiary East Ohio and thestaff of the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) to expandthe utility’s Energy Choice program this fall. East Ohio’s programcurrently covers 10 counties with only 30,000 customersparticipating. “This proposal is the next step in bringing naturalgas choice to all residential customers of East Ohio Gas,” saidRobert S. Tongren, Ohio Consumers’ Counsel.

Ohio already has one nationally recognized natural gas choiceprogram, Columbia Gas of Ohio’s, according to Tongren. “We hopeEast Ohio’s program will be just as successful,” he said. Columbiacurrently has 552,000 customers participating in its customerchoice program out of a total of 1.2 million. A great deal of theprogram’s success can be attributed to removal of mandatoryassignment of Columbia’s upstream transportation capacity. OnColumbia’s system, marketers can use their own gas transportationcapacity to serve their load in Ohio. On the systems of CincinnatiGas & Electric and East Ohio, marketers must pay maximum ratesand use the utility’s contracted upstream transportation to servecustomers in the state.

The East Ohio filing recommends establishing a collaborativegroup consisting of representatives from the utility, the PUCO, theOCC and natural gas marketers to oversee implementation of theexpanded gas choice program and to discuss various issues,including voluntary capacity assignment, allocation of on-systemstorage, customer education and enrollment and other administrativeaspects of the expanded program. The expansion is expected to gainfinal approval within the next few months with expectedimplementation beginning systemwide Nov. 1.

East Ohio has agreed to a goal of exiting the merchant functionentirely by 2004. It also intends to come up with a bidding processthrough which a new supplier of last resort can be chosen. Theparameters for such a process still have to be determined.

“I trust the PUCO will want to review and approve the expansionof choice for consumers as quickly as possible,” said Tongren. “Atthe same time, we have a lot of educational work to do. Our numberone priority is to provide consumers with the information they needto be meaningful participants in the competitive market that willbe available to them in October.”

Rocco Canonica

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